All I can say about last night’s game is, it’s about damn time. Finally, after weeks of flashes and stutters and teases, the Vikings merged talent with game-plan with attitude and showed what they’re capable of doing. They weathered a shaky start and a moment when a boneheaded mistake seemed to have doomed them, and not only took control of the contest but held onto it, and never let the opponent back in. They showed discipline, tenacity, skill, toughness and, above all, smarts. They beat up the Bears physically and mentally. Brad Childress and his coaches showed up Lovie Smith and his staff. They demonstrated their superiority, imposed their will…in short, they owned the Bears. And now they own first place in the NFC North all by themselves.
Stars Played Like Stars
Big games are made for big players, and the Vikings showed last night that they have several players who are ready and able to take on a starring role in such a critical contest. First among them was Adrian Peterson, who came out like a man possessed. It was not the prettiest performance of his career but it was perhaps the most impressive – even more impressive than his record-breaking game last season against the Chargers. Adrian’s huge stats last season were partly a function of the shock of his talent and partly of teams not yet game-planning specifically to stop him. Now people know what Adrian’s about. Now there’s tape on him. Now coordinators design whole defenses with the primary purpose of making his life miserable. The Bears came out last night with their linebackers all up choking the line, ready to not only tackle Adrian but punish him. And what did Adrian do? Only take over the game. He was battered and bloodied and limping by the end of it, but he had 131 yards and a touchdown, and was making John Madden rain superlatives down on him like he was the Brett Favre of running backs.
The second star to distinguish himself last night was Jared Allen, who had the same fire in his belly as Adrian Peterson, and made life as miserable for Bears tackle John St. Clair and QB Kyle Orton as Peterson did for Chicago’s defense. Allen’s three sacks tell only part of the story – it was the totality of his effort that was truly impressive. And his biggest play of the night wasn’t even a sack, it was a tackle on Matt Forte to cap one of the great goal-line stands in the history of the team. The Bears are known for their defense, but last night, the best defensive player on the field was in purple.
The Sequence That Changed it All
The Vikings haven’t won anything yet, but if they do end up prevailing in the division and thereby earn their first playoff berth since 2004, we will all look back on a sequence of plays from last night as the springboard. It all began in rather disheartening fashion: The Bears were ahead 7-3 midway through the second, but the Vikings appeared to have just forced a punt when Kevin Williams stuffed a Matt Forte run on third down. Unfortunately, Viking nickelback Benny Sapp had gotten in a slapfight with a Bears receiver, and the refs saw it and flagged Sapp, giving the Bears fifteen yards and a first down. Sapp slunk off the field, rightfully ashamed. The Bears, sensing a chance to grab momentum, handed it off to Matt Forte who ran it 26 yards to the Vikings’ 1 before being pushed out by Madieu Williams. First and goal from the 1 yard line for Chicago. Benny Sapp on the sideline being fitted for a goat costume. But, as history will record should the Vikings parlay last night’s win into a playoff run, the inevitable did not in fact happen. The Bears did not punch it in to take a 14-3 lead. Benny Sapp did not join Gary “Wide Left” Anderson, Alfred “One Shoe” Anderson and Willie “Whiffed on Dorsett” Teal in the Vikings Hall-of-Shame. The Vikings defense rose up collectively and skunked the Bears on four straight plays, taking over the ball on their own 1. And then…well, words can’t really do it justice, so:
The Bears were shellshocked after this dramatic turnaround, and even more so when the Vikings added to their lead with another touchdown to cap the second quarter. But, there would be one last chance for the Bears to turn the tide: The Vikes led 17-7 early in the third when Gus Frerotte threw inexplicably to a bracketed Sidney Rice and Kevin Payne picked it off and ran it back to the four. Two plays later, Matt Forte caught a little lob from Kyle Orton and the Bears had cut the lead to 17-14. Vikings fans could be forgiven if they felt the momentum sliding toward Chicago, given the collapses Minnesota has suffered in the second halves of games this season (Indy and Tampa spring immediately to mind). But, last night was different. The Vikings answered a couple series later, restoring the lead to 14 points. The defense would then completely clamp down on Kyle Orton, picking him off three times in the fourth quarter to guarantee there would be no comeback. Leslie Frazier‘s crew showed exactly how dominant they can be when given the lead. And the Vikes showed the kind of game they can play when, instead of wilting under pressure, they keep their wits about them and rise to the occasion.
(photo credit: Yahoo/Getty Images)